Most people train to be lifeguards when they are in high school. I didn’t learn the necessary skills until I was in my mid 60s. I was motivated because I needed money for an upcoming adventure, and already worked at a pool as a water aerobics exercise leader.
While I have spent most of my life around pools, lakes and oceans and the opportunities each provides, most of it had been for recreation purposes, all about myself, rather than anyone else.
Watching accomplished swimmers cruise their laps flawlessly was hypnotic and, frankly, boring. It was the guarding of swim lesson participants, children and adults, as they struggled to acquire skills and conquer fears that made guarding exciting and purposeful for me. I admired the high school swim team kids who would climb out of warm beds in predawn winter darkness to practice for the next meet.
One of the things I found most difficult about guarding was my inability at times to separate my professional obligations from my parental opinions. Watching a pack of teenaged boys relentlessly chase a female camp mate around the pool in hopes of touching her got my whistle to my mouth one day. I told her I would stop them if she wanted a break from their ardor. She game me a smile and a giggle, replied that she liked it and swam off with the young swains in hot pursuit. The mother in me shivered.
It was with mixed feelings that I retired from guarding. The prospect of a wrenched shoulder from an overzealous rescue during training sessions, the 4:30 am wake-up alarm to be on time for the first guard shift of the day, and the hair in the drains overshadowed the sense of security that I felt I provided for the patrons. Becoming a lifeguard has changed me and my relationship to water forever. I will never stop watching all those around me who dip their toes into that perilous and delicious elixir, be it salty, sweet or chlorinated.